Don’t Confuse Haas With Past U.S. F1 Wannabes
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Gene Haas is well aware of recent efforts by Americans to assemble Formula One teams. He is equally aware of the failures and borderline deceptiveness of those efforts and he thoroughly understands the skepticism that those failures have created among American fans.
So during a lengthy teleconference on Monday, Haas, who last week was granted a Formula One license by the FIA sanctioning body to build a team, issued a message to the skeptics: Haas Formula – as the team will be known – should not be confused with entities like the USF1 effort of just a few years ago.
“Well,” Haas said, “there is obviously skepticism in anything that anybody’s trying to do that hasn’t been done before. The only way I can allay it is to go out there and do it.
“I can’t tell you about the other people that fail. I don’t know why they fail. I can’t guarantee that I won’t fail, but you have to try it.”
The fact is, Haas has a lot more than optimism going for him as he begins building his team.
See, Gene Haas and Guenther Steiner, the team’s principal, are not USF1’s Peter Windsor and Ken Anderson. Haas has at his disposal all the things and more that USf1 only hoped it would have. Things like money, FIA rules that have become more friendly to start-ups, and a viable launch and follow-through plan.
Haas said Monday that his goal is to race for a World Championship beginning 2015 and there is every reason to believe that the goal will be met.
Those familiar with NASCAR, and those familiar with world of machine tools, know well the Haas story. He owns Haas Automation, the company which produces CNC machine tools. The company is a monster. It is the biggest machine tool producer in the Western World.
I once asked a NASCAR insider about Haas and his financial situation. The guy laughed and said Haas “has more money than Roger Penske and Rick Hendrick put together.”
Real money. Not on-paper money. And from the sound of it, he’s ready to spend a lot of it on his Formula Haas team. Asked if he had heard it might cost a billion dollars to build a team, Haas said, “It’s going to be billions and billions. So every week it goes up by another billion.”
Haas’ reasons for getting involved are primarily mercenary – as they must be for every owner other than Ferrari. He is doing it to increase the profile and profitability of his company.
“As things evolve,” he said during the teleconference, “eventually I saw a relationship with, obviously, racing and machine tools that I wanted to pursue in Europe. Most of the sales in the world are going to be overseas in the next four or five years, and my basic goal here is to change Haas Automation from just a machine tool builder into a premium brand. I think Formula 1 will provide that, especially in the overseas markets.”
Formula One not only increases visibility in foreign markets, it creates the perception that his tools are of elite quality.
Haas correctly notes that recent FIA rule changes – while they may not be a big hit with traditional fans –make jumping into F1 cheaper and easier and with an increased expectation of success. The rules cover everything from engine leasing to banning some of the more outrageous technological advances.
“The regulations have changed in our favor,” Steiner said. “Appendix 6 of the Sporting Regulations has changed. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, as Gene said, because the wheel is there. We just do what is important to it and that’s how we see it to be efficient, how we go forward.”
“Going back to the 2008 year,” Haas said, “that’s when there was a lot of apprehension about how much money was being spent on aero. The cars were developing appendages that were coming out of the fronts and the sides, and they were worrying about air flow from the front nose and how it affected the wing. So there was a lot of experimentation and money being thrown at things. There was CFD, computer analysis of aero. And these were things that were just really, really running the costs up.
“But if you go back say five or six years ago, the cost of computers is probably a hundred times what it is today. So now CFD is a lot more reasonable. It’s not the ultimate, but the rules are changed.”
Haas is also the proud owner of something every F1 team needs in order to be competitive – a wind tunnel. Though recent rule changes have clamped down on the use of full-scale tunnels, they remain indispensable and extremely expensive tools.
“I don’t have to go out and buy a wind tunnel so I don’t have to pay the hundred million dollars because I’ve already got one,” Haas said, “so that’s an advantage right there. I’m already saving money, and I haven’t even started.”
And from the sound of it, he knows that hiring the right kind of driver – one with a recognizable name and F1 experience – will be a key to kick starting the effort as, think goodness, he brushed aside talk about putting Danica Patrick in the car.
Where Haas may be deficient, and which is not joke, is his expectations of how difficult – money, rules and facilities not withstanding – getting rolling and then getting competitive is going to be.
During his press conference, he sort of had a “cars are cars” attitude toward it all. It was reminiscent of the teleconference that Randy Bernard had when he was hired as the head of INDYCAR serveral years ago. Bernard said business is business and he knew about running businesses. He’s gone now.
Haas will find out that F1 is not NASCAR and Europe is not the United States. He will get lessons in politics and elitism and condescension. He will not be welcomed to F1 with cakes and soup by the traditional powers over there. Ask Michael Andretti about the reception Americans receive in F1.
And at home, until his cars make their first standing start on an F1 road course, there are going to be – thanks in large part to the failures of others – doubters.
He seems bothered not at all.
“I don’t know exactly why (USF1) failed, but they had a different set of rules,” Haas said. “There was a lot more complications of those rules. I respect that they tried.
“I don’t think that they made a full-hearted attempt. But for whatever reasons, they failed at it. I think it just lends to the story line that Formula 1 is extremely hard to do. It’s extremely expensive to do, and Americans can’t do it. I’m here to prove that we can do it, and we can do it with a budget and we can be efficient at it and we can win at it. That’s what I’m going to try. I’m not saying that I’m better than anybody else. I just have a different way of doing it, and people that I work with think differently. That, I guess, is going to be the secret to our success in this business.”
Haas Formula will indeed grid a car in F1 – perhaps by his target launch of 2015. And while it won’t be easy as he may expect, it will be a much sounder effort than many of the disappointment-hardened skeptics expect.
Haas Formula is not USF1.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at email@example.com Comments